Breakdowns

An Early Look at the Top 2023 NFL Draft Prospects

An Early Look at the Top 2023 NFL Draft Prospects

With the 2022 NFL Draft wrapped up and undrafted free agency already underway, some fans are already turning their attention to the next set of candidates eligible for induction into the NFL. For NFL teams, evaluations of 2023 draft prospects have been underway for months.

Here we capture a group of players who have the potential to hear their name called next year. You may see some overlap or familiar names in our recent Way Too Early 2023 Mock Draft Projection. Some of the players below were also featured in our Best Returning Players articles for offense and defense.

Quarterback 

Player 2021 PFF Grade School
Bryce Young 92.4 Alabama
C.J. Stroud 91.6 Ohio State
Spencer Rattler 86.1 South Carolina
Caleb Williams 90.8 USC
Kedon Slovis 79.2 Pitt

Leading this group of players is reigning Heisman Trophy and Maxwell Award Winner Bryce Young. Young was also selected as the Associated Press’s Player of the Year after setting Crimson Tide records in passing yards and touchdowns. Stroud joins the Heisman Winner as another promising and productive quarterback on a perennial contender. Stroud was a finalist for the Heisman and sat alongside Young in New York. Stroud received the Big Ten’s Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year, Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year, and Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year. 

With Stroud at the helm, Ohio State led the country in total offense (561.2 yards/game) and points-per-game (45.7). The other three names will be familiar faces in new places. Caleb Williams and Spencer Rattler split after a tumultuous and obscure season that saw Williams take over OU’s offense after Rattler failed to dazzle the Big-12. Williams will follow former head coach Lincoln Riley to USC, while Rattler will look for greener pastures as a South Carolina Gamecock. Lastly, Slovis transferred to Pitt after Williams presumably took his job as soon as he walked on campus. The AP Pac-12 First Teamer was a two-year starter for the Trojans and holds the completion rate record among all Trojans at a 70% clip. Slovis will look to fill the shoes that Pickett left vacant. Unfortunately, he and Biletnikoff Winner Jordan Addison will be swapping places.

 

Running Back

Player 2021 PFF Rushing Grade School
Bijan Robinson 91.1 Texas
Jahmyr Gibbs 86.2 Alabama
Zach Charbonnet 91.9 UCLA
Sean Tucker 87 Syracuse
Deuce Vaughn 92.4 Kansas State

The 2023 running back class should be pretty strong overall. The class is led by former five-star recruit Bijan Robinson, a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award, Doak Walker Award, and Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award. After suffering a scary injury, Robinson missed two games but was second in the FBS in missed tackles forced to MSU’s Kenneth Walker III. Jahmyr Gibbs is an Alabama transferee, initially playing for Georgia Tech. Gibbs provides a dual-threat out of the backfield, considering Gibbs was second only to Kansas State’s Deuce Vaughn, another player on this list, in receiving yards among running backs. The former Yellow Jacket posted PFF’s highest receiving grade among running backs in the FBS. 

Zach Charbonnet is an exciting prospect who has prototypical size, standing at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds. The All-Pac-12 First Teamer logged PFF’s 3rd-highest PFF rushing grade and broke the 5th-most tackles in the FBS among running backs. Sean Tucker was spectacular for the Syracuse Orange in 2021, breaking their single-season rushing record with 1,496 yards. Listed as a First-Team All-American by FWAA, Tucker’s contribution did not go unnoticed. Lastly, Kansas State’s Deuce Vaughn may be the best dual-threat in the country, leading the FBS in receiving yards while churning out the 12th-most rushing yards in the FBS with 1,263.

Wide Receiver

Player 2021 PFF Receiving Grade School
Jaxon Smith-Njigba 90.2 Ohio State
Kayshon Boutte 75.5 LSU
Marvin Mims 87.7 (2020) Oklahoma
Jordan Addison 87.6 Transfer Portal
Josh Downs 84 UNC

The 2023 class for receiving appears to be just as talented as the next, headlined by difference-makers Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Jordan Addison. Smith-Njigba contributed to arguably the best receiving trio in the country, including two top-15 picks in the 2022 NFL Draft, Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. Smit-Njigba bested both of them in receiving yards with 1,595 yards in the regular and postseason, also 3rd best in the country behind Deven Thompkins and Jerreth Sterns. Smith-Njigba broke Rose Bowl records to put an exclamation point on his eye-opening season.

Kayshon Boutte from LSU projects as a difference-maker, although no one has been able to see Boutte play an entire season where he was the go-to guy. After taking over for Terrace Marshall Jr. in 2020 after he opted out, Boutte set the SEC record for receiving yards in a game against Ole Miss with 308 yards and three touchdowns on 14 receptions. In 2020, Boutte finished his campaign with three straight 100-yard games as a true freshman. Boutte missed the majority of the 2021 season, though. The reigning Biletnikoff Award winner, Jordan Addison, is expected to transfer to USC to finish his college football career. Despite Slovis’s transfer, Addison lost teammate Kenny Pickett. Addison will undoubtedly join one of the most potent offensives in LA, with Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams coming to town. However, if Addison leaves, he will not be able to break Larry Fitzgerald’s Pitt records. Marvin Mims enjoyed a productive freshman season before putting up a relatively disappointing 2021 campaign. Mims led the Sooners in receiving yards and touchdowns in 2020 to earn FWAA Freshman All-American honors while boasting a top-10 PFF grade among FBS receivers. Lastly, Josh Downs performed well for the Tar Heels in 2021, hauling in the 5th-most receptions in the FBS for 1,335 yards and eight touchdowns to earn All-ACC First Team honors.

Tight End

Player 2021 PFF Season Grade School
Michael Mayer 82.8 Notre Dame
Sam LaPorta 68.1 Iowa
Dalton Kincaid 78 Utah
Josh Whyle 70.1 Cincinnati
Benjamin Yurosek 74.4 Stanford

Michael Mayer was one of college football’s finest tight ends in 2021, leading Notre Dame in receiving yards and tied for the team lead in touchdown receptions. Mayer was elected to The Athletic Freshman All-America First Team in 2020 and Phil Steele’s All-Independent First Team in 2021. Mayer is a favorite for next year’s top tight end. Sam LaPorta is the next in the long line of Iowa tight ends displaying NFL ability. LaPorta’s 53 receptions ranked 8th in the FBS and his ten missed tackles forced tied for 9th in the FBS. LaPorta should build on what has been a successful career in 2022 and could potentially hear his name called come this time next year.

Dalton Kincaid is a sure-handed tight end from Utah, posting PFF’s 2nd-highest drop rating with a mark of 90.4. Kincaid averaged 14.2 yards per reception on 36 catches, totaling 510 yards and eight touchdowns for the Utes. Kincaid was a Pac-12 All-Conference honorable mention, and his eight touchdowns were 3rd-best among tight ends in the Pac-12. Josh Whyle for the Cincinnati Bearcats only had 26 receptions for the College Football Playoff team, but six went for scores. Whyle earned All-ACC Honorable Mention honors for his contributions in 2021. Still, in 2020, Whyle earned Third-Team All-America honors from Pro Football Focus after posting the 2nd-highest receiving grade below Kyle Pitts. Yurosek earned All-Pac-12 First Team honors from PFF after posting a 79.9 PFF-receiving grade on 42 receptions for 655 yards and three touchdowns. Yurosek particularly shined in pass protection, logging the 6th-highest pass-block grade in the FBS. 

Interior Offensive Line

Player 2021 PFF Season Grade School
Jarrett Patterson 81.6 Notre Dame
John Michael Schmitz 87.3 Minnesota
Ricky Stromberg 75.1 Arkansas
O’Cyrus Torrence 88 Lousiana-Lafayette
Andrew Vorhees 90 USC

This season, Patterson was a captain for the Fighting Irish and earned Phil Steele’s All-American Third Team honors and All-Independent First Team honors. Patterson’s 85.4 PFF-pass-blocking grade was the highest in the FBS among centers with at least 500 snaps. John Michael Schmitz earned the coaches’ All-Big Ten Second Team honors after posting the 3rd-highest PFF-season grade among centers, allowing 0 sacks across 317 pass snaps. Ricky Stromberg posted a top-20 run-block grade for the Razorbacks this season. Stromberg has played three full seasons in the SEC, making him an experienced and seasoned college football player.

O’Cyrus Torrence, despite having an awesome name, has the talent to boot. Torrence received All-Sun-Belt First Team honors after registering the 5th-highest PFF-run-block grade among all offensive guards with at least 500 snaps in the FBS. Not only that, but Torrence also put up the 4th-highest season grade for the Ragin’ Cajuns. Torrence is transferring to UF to finish his career as a Gator. Andrew Vorhees for USC was one of the most spectacular interior linemen in the country. Vorhees earned a 90 or above in each PFF category for lineman: season grade, pass-block grade, and run-block grade. As a result, Vorhees was selected to the AP -All-American Third Team, AP All-Pac-12 First team, and won USC’s offensive lineman of the year award.

Offensive Tackle

Player 2021 PFF Season Grade School
Jordan McFadden 89 Clemson
Dawand Jones 86.2 Ohio State
Peter Skoronski 83.8 Northwestern
Paris Johnson Jr 79.9 Ohio State
Blake Freeland 78.5 BYU

McFadden was a standout for Clemson in 2021. McFadden’s 89.0 regular season PFF grade was 2nd-highest among returning offensive tackles in the FBS. The Clemson Tiger was a Second-Team All-ACC selection, and he surrendered only one sack across 400 pass-blocking snaps. Dawand Jones for Ohio State posted a top-15 PFF-season grade in 2021, only 0.4 away from first-round pick Charles Cross’s grade. Jones is especially hulking in stature, standing at 6-foot-8 and 360 pounds. Jones should have plenty of opportunities to expand on two successful preceding seasons with teammates Thayer Munford and Nic Petit-Frere both leaving for the NFL. According to PFF, Peter Skoronski for the Northwestern Wildcats performed well in 2021, posting a respectable 83.9 season grade and 84.3 pass-blocking grade. Skoronski allowed only two sacks last season over 436 pass-blocking snaps. 

Paris Johnson is the second Buckeye to make the list and, like Jones, was effective in 2021. Although lined up mostly inside, Johnson will likely move to tackle next year due to the aforementioned players’ departure. Johnson was a mauler in the run-game, claiming a spot in the top-10 for PFF-run-block grade in the FBS. Blake Freeland from BYU posted the 2nd-highest PFF-pass-blocking grade in the FBS behind only 2022 NFL Draftee Zach Tom. Freeland was selected to Phil Steele’s All-Independent First Team for the second straight season in 2021.

 

Interior Defensive Line

Player 2021 PFF Season Grade School
Jalen Carter 84.1 Georgia
Bryan Bresee 69.4 Clemson
Myles Murphy 84.3 (2020) Clemson
Isaiah Foskey 79.8 Notre Dame
Byron Young 84.6 Alabama

Jalen Carter is a former five-star recruit, and although Georgia had first-round picks Devonte Wyatt and Jordan Davis, Carter pushed for playing time. Among IDLs that played at least 390 snaps, Carter registered PFF’s 7th-highest defensive grade. After making the coaches’ All-SEC Second Team, Carter will help Georgia continue their defensive dominance. Bresee played in only four games this past season for the Tigers. Still, Bresee impacted the game during those four games by collecting one sack, 3 QB hits, and 6 QB hurries. In 2020, Bresee accrued four sacks and 16 hurries to win the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. 

Murphy, Bresee’s teammate, accumulated nine sacks, two forced fumbles, two pass breakups, and 33 QB hurries, building upon an impressive freshman campaign that saw him register the highest run-defense PFF -grade in the FBS. Murphy was a Second-Team All-ACC selection in 2021, and he will look to vault up to First Team honors next year with his teammate, Bresee. Foskey is a Notre Dame standout who collected ten sacks for the Fighting Irish this past season, third-most in a season in Notre Dame history. Foskey was awarded All-American Third Team honors, according to Phil Steele. Young, although playing only 306 snaps, posted a run-defense grade of 88.7, good for 17th among all defenders in the FBS. Young also got after the quarterback, evidenced by his nine sacks. 

Edge Rusher

Player 2021 PFF Season Grade School
Will Anderson Jr 89.3 Alabama
Nolan Smith 81.1 Georgia
Derick Hall 76.3 Auburn
Trenton Simpson 72.6 Clemson
BJ Ojulari 72.1 LSU

The 2023 edge-rusher class seems to be chock-full of talent, similar to this year. Headlining the class is Will Anderson Jr., who might have been the best rusher in the country. Anderson notched an FBS-high 81 pressures, converting 15 of those into an FBS-high in sacks. His 89.8 regular+postseason grade is the best among returning players. Smith posted the 5th-best run defense PFF grade in the FBS. In three years with Georgia, Nolan Smith has 15 sacks. He has consistently improved, increasing sack production and tackle production over his collegiate career. This past season, Smith set a career-high in sacks with seven and tackles with 32. Smith is undoubtedly an ascending player who played a crucial role in Georgia’s dominant season. 

Hall was within striking distance of the top 20 in the country in sacks with 10. He added 30 tackles to the bottom line while earning All-SEC Second Team honors from the coaches. Hall’s ten sacks and 30 tackles to Auburn’s defense were career highs. Trenton Simpson for the Clemson Tigers is enigmatic because he plays a hybrid role: both off-ball linebacker and edge rusher. Simpson split his time between the defensive line, lined up in the box and the slot. This past year, Simpson tied for second on the team in sacks with seven, behind Myles Murphy, a player covered above. Simpson added a team-leading 52 tackles and two forced fumbles. His 88.3 PFF pash rush grade was good for 16th in the country. Ojulari, brother of Giants’ Azeez, created the 12th-most pressures in the FBS with 54. Ojulari also collected eight sacks.

Linebacker

Player 2021 PFF Season Grade School
Mikel Jones 75.6 Syracuse
Jack Campbell 71.7 Iowa
Noah Sewell 71.4 Oregon
Stefon Thompson 70.7 Syracuse
Justin Flowe 54.9 Oregon

Jones for Syracuse was an effective off-ball linebacker for the Orange after posting top-20 PFF grades in tackling and coverage. According to PFF, AP, and coaches, Jones earned First Team All-ACC honors in 2021. Campbell proved the doubters wrong in 2021, racking up the 3rd most tackles in the FBS. Consequently, Campbell was elected to the All-Big Ten Second Team by the Associated Press. Noah Sewell, brother of the 7th overall draft pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Penei Sewell, tied for second on the Ducks for sacks as a freshman, behind only 2022 NFL draft prospect Kayvon Thibodeaux. Sewell’s 34 tackles in 2020 were also good for second on the team, and the coaches in the Pac-12 selected him as the Freshman Defensive Player of the year. Sewell collected 72 tackles this past year, seizing the team lead by 15. Sewell also boasts an 88.6 pash rush PFF grade, ranking 4th best among linebackers who played at least 800 snaps in the FBS. 

Stefon Thompson, Jones’s Syracuse teammate, was impressive as well. Thompson’s seven sacks were tied for 9th among FBS linebackers with at least 450 snaps. Thompson’s 90.2 PFF-tackle grade was 4th-highest in the FBS, one spot below first-round pick Quay Walker. Finally, Sewell’s teammate Justin Flowe has not gotten his footing quite yet in college. However, in limited playing time due to injury, Flowe has flashed potential and should be good for the 2022 season after joining the Ducks as a five-star recruit.

Cornerback

Player 2021 PFF Coverage Grade School
Kelee Ringo 72.2 Georgia
Jaylon Jones 70.9 Ole Miss
Joey Porter Jr 70.8 Penn State
Brian Branch 69 Alabama
Eli Ricks 68.8 Alabama

In 2021, Ringo burst onto the scene during Georgia’s championship campaign as a redshirt freshman. Starting in all 15 games, Ringo ranked in the top five for both INTs and PBUs on the team. As a result, Ringo was selected to the Coaches’ Freshman All-SEC Team. Ringo looks to take the reins in Georgia’s defensive backfield in 2022 as he becomes a draft-eligible player. Jones was a senior leader for the Rebels in 2021. After being selected to the Freshman All-American First Team by PFF and Rivals in 2016, Jones has the sturdy, talented presence to lead a collegiate secondary. 

Joey Porter Jr., son of former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter, made All-Big Ten Third Team in 2021 for the second season in a row. Porter forced a fumble and hauled in an interception this season. Brian Branch led the Tide in pass breakups in 2021. With minimal talent leaving Tuscaloosa for the NFL this year, Branch should contribute to a group that will be among the best in 2022. After spending his first two seasons in Baton Rouge with the LSU Tigers, Ricks is transferring to the Alabama Crimson Tide for the 2022 CFB Season. In his first year with the Tigers, Ricks earned Third Team All-American and Second Team All-SEC honors from the Associated Press and All-SEC Freshman Team honors from the coaches. During 2020, Ricks led the Tigers in picks while allowing the 2nd fewest yards among teammates who logged at least 250 coverage snaps and posted the highest PFF defensive grade on the team. This past year, Ricks played in only six games, missing the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. 

 

Safety

Player 2021 PFF Season Grade School
Nick Anderson 88.1 (2020) Tulane
Jordan Battle 88 Alabama
Malachi Moore 82 (2020) Alabama
Brandon Joseph 83.4 (2020) Notre Dame
Jalen Catalon 79.4 Arkansas

Nick Anderson for Tulane missed a good chunk of the 2021 season, sitting out Weeks 4-7 with an injury. Still, Anderson collected three sacks and allowed just 6.4 yards per reception. Battle played in all of Alabama’s 13 games in his freshman season. In his sophomore season, Battle moved into a starting role at safety, allowing the fewest yards on the team among players with at least 100 coverage snaps. Battle trailed only Will Anderson Jr. in PFF defensive grade on the Tide with 89.8. Battle also posted the Tide’s highest PFF coverage grade (and 4th highest in the country) while sharing the team lead in INTs (with 3) and PBUs (with 4). Battle finished 2021 with All-SEC First Team honors from the coaches and the Associated Press. 

Malachi Moore stood out primarily in his 2020 freshman season, earning Freshman All-SEC First Team, Freshman All-American, and Second-Team All-SEC Honors. The Alabama native has the talent to thrive in the SEC and saw time in all 15 games in 2021, but hopefully, we will see more of his freshman-type performance in the coming season. Brandon Joseph will be playing for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in 2022 after spending his first three years with the Northwestern Wildcats. In 2020, Joseph posted the 3rd highest PFF defensive grade in the FBS, led the FBS in interceptions, surrendered only 50 yards on 24 targets, and allowed an NFL passer rating of 2.8. Joseph was elected to the AP All-American First-Team, All-Big Ten First Team, and won AP Big Ten Newcomer of the Year. Joseph regressed in 2021, though. Joseph allowed 26 receptions on 32 targets. Though, Joseph kept it going with ball production, intercepting the ball three times (team-high). Jalen Catalon is a former FWAA Freshman-All American and All-SEC First Teamer. However, Catalon only played in six games in 2021, failing to get his footing and posting just a 61.7 PFF-season grade. Catalon did garner two interceptions in Week 1, though.